TAFE uncertainty

CONCERNS held by students and staff over existing Advance TAFE courses will not be answered for a number of weeks.

Advance TAFE chief executive Peter Heilbuth told the Gippsland Times he and the TAFE’s board were working carefully through an analysis of existing courses, staffing and facilities and did not expect to be able to make any announcements until mid-June.

Mr Heilbuth was speaking following a meeting called by the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council where Advance TAFE, GippsTAFE, Monash Gippsland and Apprenticeships Group Australia considered the apprenticeship implications of the State Government’s funding cuts to TAFE.

“The reality of the budget is that funding for apprenticeships goes up,” he said.

“Which is good for apprenticeship training.”

About 22 per cent of Advance TAFE’s activity involves delivery of apprenticeship-related courses, with many of the other courses involving non-apprenticeship skills certificates.

“However for 78 per cent of our courses funding goes down, some significantly.

“These are significant and unprecedented cuts — between 15 and 20 per cent overall on a like-for-like basis, and they cannot be solved by tinkering around the edges,” he said.

“Therefore we are taking the time to put the region’s requirements first.”

Mr Heilbuth said all options were being looked at, including working more smartly with technology to deliver courses across the region.

“All options are on the table,” he said.

“Fees may have to rise, but where possible fees rises will be kept to a minimum as we are aware there is not the capacity in the region to absorb huge rises in fees.”

Mr Heilbuth was adamant the long term existence of Advance TAFE was not in doubt.

“The board is saying this organisation is here for the long run,” he said.

“It will not be the same as it is now, but at all times students and the region’s needs will be put first.”

The future of the TAFE’s long-awaited consolidation of its disparate Sale facilities on the Port of Sale site is still dependant on an existing Federal government funding application.

Mr Heilbuth said the TAFE board had been lobbying the Federal Government solidly, and if the funding application was successful he was hopeful the State Government would also contribute to the cost of building the new campus.

“This project is something the region needs, at this time,” Mr Heilbuth said.

“A major construction project like this would assist with apprenticeships for the duration of the 16 to 18 month construction phase.” However any decision about the funding application is unlikely until late into the second half of this year.

The future of Victoria’s TAFE system has been the focus of heated political exchanges during the past week.

Shadow Minister for Higher Education and Skills Steve Herbert said while TAFE chief executives were making tough decisions about how they would cope with their dwindling finances, Premier Ted Baillieu seemed to be simply refusing to acknowledge what impact the cuts were having.

“And the Premier’s refusal comes on the very same day the Federal Minister, Chris Evans, was outlining his concern regarding Mr Baillieu’s TAFE cuts in the strongest manner possible to Victorian TAFE directors.”

Mr Herbert said the most vulnerable campuses were in country Victoria and the impact of any closures would be severe.

“The Baillieu Government either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about how important TAFEs are in regional Victoria,” Mr Herbert said.

However Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall slammed Senator Chris Evans’ visit, describing it as politically motivated.

Mr Hall said the Victorian Government’s recent reforms were necessary to refocus training to ensure it was sustainable, high quality and focused on the needs of industry and students.

“The Victorian Government has an obligation to ensure the record amount of taxpayers’ funding going into the training system is spent on areas of greatest need to the state’s economy and to maximise real job opportunities for Victorians,” Mr Hall said.

“Massive blowouts in training in many lifestyle courses, including a 1955 per cent increase in fitness training and a 2700 per cent increase in retail service between 2008 and 2011, at the expense of participation in apprenticeships and areas of skills shortages, had to be urgently addressed and that is what the government is doing,” Mr Hall said.

“In a contestable funding environment, TAFEs have a number of competitive advantages.

“They benefit from a significant asset base across the state, they have deep and enduring connections to their communities and most importantly, they are able to use the TAFE brand, which is synonymous across the country with high quality trainin